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Collaborative Authoring - Part 6: Final Analysis

And, the looming battle between Microsoft and Google

Google is the search engine leader. Microsoft is the office tools leader. Both of them want to be the collaboration leader.

Google bought Writely for both its word processing and collaboration capabilities. As we have seen, it does a better job at collaboration than word processing. Microsoft is again a late comer to the collaboration space. However, it wants to become the leader in that area and plans to do so by bundling collaboration features into the next release of MS Office.

So, we have an interesting set of circumstances at play. Google wants to be in the office productivity space with offerings that will appeal to corporate users. In other words, it wants to take on MS Office on its own turf. Microsoft, on the other hand, sees that it's weak on both the search and the collaboration front. It wants to correct both of those problems as quickly as possible and provide collaboration functions to boot.

So how what does this battle look like today?

From my vantage point, Microsoft has the advantage.

Adding collaboration features to an already strong set of word processing capabilities should be easier than the other way around. As this series of posts on Collaborative Authoring has shown, Writely just does not have enough word processing features to compete with user expectations. If the objective is to entice corporations to use Writely instead of MS Word, the current version will not allow this to happen.

In short, it is my contention that corporate users will expect functional equivalence on the word processing front as a prerequisite to using the collaborative authoring features.

The best that Google can hope for right now is that corporations will use Writely as a tool COMPLEMENTARY to MS Word. In other words, people would use Writely to author a document while in draft form and then pull it into MS Word for final editing. It would then be circulated for final approval using either email or via a document management system such as Documentum.

So why exactly is Writely in a weaker position than MS Office? As the following bullets will show, it is because it comes up short on many fronts, including:

  • No Style setup functions as in MS Word;
  • Can't use Tags in a query (only to filter the document collection);
  • Comma Tag separator precludes using terms with embedded commas;
  • Line spacing can only be applied to the entire document;
  • Limited font and type size support;
  • Can't recognize multiple font changes on import (only the first one);
  • Does not import super- and sub-scripts correctly;
  • Does not allow the insertion of super- and sub-scripts;
  • Generally not able to handle scientific notation;
  • Can't apply further security (read, write, modify, delete) within the allowed set of collaborators;
  • Maintains version history but does not allow the assignment of version numbers or labels;
  • Conversion and saving of documents from the Writely to the MS Word or Acrobat PDF format take too long;
  • Comment text in the converted MS Word document can't be distinguished from the text of the document itself;
  • When using the query function, the Boolean OR does not work across documents;
  • Term "hit" highlighting is not supported

On a positive note, Writely DOES provide some very useful collaboration functions. Let's hope that Microsoft will do so as well.

Finally, let's not forget that there are always alternatives to either Google or Microsoft. More about that in the next post in this series.



We may end up calling this the Clash of the Titans! Both of these companies are powerful and competitive, but it seems they each have their own niche and delving into the other's arenas may not be wise business at this point.

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